Unfortunately for Chris Wilder, it could be the first of many to come. The loss to Crystal Palace after Jeffrey Schlep’s first goal and a flash of individual brilliance from Bear Eze means Sheffield United has now surpassed QPR’s unwanted record for the most Premier League matches without a win since beginning of a season.
That 17-game streak never seemed to end here, especially after Palace took the lead with his first serious attack. But with just two points and the season nearing its halfway point, your coach must be well aware that his team remains firmly on track to succeed the 2007-8 Derby as the worst team in Premier League history.
Wilder’s mounting problems meant he was only able to name just six substitutes, including 16-year-old forward Antoine Hackford, with nine players injured or unavailable due to Covid. Having admitted that his previous match against Burnley had been on the verge of being postponed, he had again expected the worst for his trip to Level 4 London.
Instead, it was the hosts who became embroiled in the Covid-related controversy before the start when reports surfaced that Palace was investigating an Instagram video that appeared to show Luka Milosevic violating social distancing rules at a New Years Eve party with his Serbia’s teammate Aleksandar. Mitotic of Fulham. However, the Palace captain was still in the starting lineup, with Joel Ward and James McArthur restored to the team that drew with Leicester on December 28.
After conceding 10 goals in his previous two games against Liverpool and Aston Villa, Hodgson seems to have come back to the test. But while play maker Eze was initially confined to the bank again, it took Palace just three minutes to find the trailer. Andros Townsend was the architect of a fluid movement that saw Wilfried Zaha find Christian Benzene on the edge of the box, before his pass was deflected into Schlep’s path and his shot found the net courtesy of another deflection.
It was the kind of bad luck that often haunts teams in the relegation zone, but a long way from their defense in the two 1-0 victories United won last season against Palace on their way to ninth place. However, having managed just eight league goals throughout the campaign, the visitors rarely seemed capable of breaking a defense that had posted its last clean sheet on the first day of the season.
Benzene came close to extending Palace’s lead after a good run from Zaha, while Hodgson turned to Eze just before the break after Schlep was forced to withdraw with a suspected hamstring injury. A lack of concentration by the substitute allowed the visitors to finally register their first shot on goal, but Hayden Bogle’s shot was easily handled by Vicente Guaita.
There were only 10 seconds left of the five minutes added mainly by Schlep’s injury when Eze picked up the ball deep in his own field. Passing over Ollie Norwood with his first touch, the England Under-21 international beat Ethan Amado with ease before launching an exquisite low shot into the corner. It was a goal of pure instinct, but Hodgson still found time to seek out Eze to offer some advice as the players left the field for halftime.
An injury to Benzene early in the second half did nothing to break Palace’s dominance, with Townsend a constant thorn in United’s side. He should have rounded things off with a third goal, while Wilder pitched over Rhian Brewster and Hackford, the second-youngest player in club history, in an attempt to turn it into a game. However, the hosts were in no mood to deliver any late Christmas presents, as a James Tomkins block to deny that Hackford ensured they comfortably held on to a first win since defeating West Brom a month ago.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism